Foreigners flood in for city rebuild

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 07:35 27/12/2012
The Mullin family from Ireland
Dean Kozanic
REBUILDING: The Mullin family from Ireland. John, left, Jenette, Matthew, Sarah and Robert

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Christchurch's international work force is ramping up.

Immigration figures released this month showed visas issued to workers helping rebuild the earthquake-hit city totalled 404 in the past six months, compared with 206 the first half of the year.

The rebuild workers are mostly from Britain, Ireland and the Philippines.

Since July last year, 719 skilled workers have received visas, including carpenters (97), quantity surveyors (72) and painters (69).

Some of the 12,000 British and Irish working-holiday visa-holders could also be working on the rebuild.

Canterbury Employment and Skills Board chairman Alex Bouma said the increase was not surprising, given the number of residential and commercial building projects and infrastructure repairs now under way.

"You can see there's definitely a real shortage [of workers] already starting to appear," he said.

"The positive sign is there are a lot of people in training. We're starting to see employers a lot more focused now on getting a good mix and providing opportunities."

The number heading to Christchurch was expected to grow significantly, Bouma said.

Accommodation constraints and some larger projects yet to start had kept the increase in check.

"There's still going to be some natural constraints that will make it speed up and slow down from time to time. Certainly, we're still worried about housing, but various solutions are being sought," he said.

British, Irish and Filipino workers would remain the "typical market".

"A big part of it is going to remain recognisable qualifications,'' he said.

"We're not just bringing unskilled labour through. 

"That, to a certain degree, is going to limit the countries you can actually source, but at the end of the day, I think we will see that pool open up a little bit further as more work is done."

Scott Mathieson, the director of Auckland-based migration services business Working In, told The Press this month that up to 600 Irish and British workers were expected to head to Christchurch during the next six months.

The company held career expos in Dublin, Manchester and London last month and would repeat the effort in March, he said.

Kiwi recruitment firm Canstaff set up offices in Dublin and Northern Ireland to woo tradesmen to Christchurch.

Irish carpenter John Mullin moved with his family to Christchurch in June after being recruited by Canstaff, and now works for construction firm Calder Stewart.

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Christchurch and Canada were popular destinations because of the work shortage in Ireland, he said.

"It's pretty quiet back home with the recession. A lot of guys are definitely looking at going overseas," he said.

"It's a lot of money to get over here, but it's still worth it."

The numbers able to leave Ireland had decreased significantly, but tradesmen Mullin had spoken to were still keen to come to Christchurch.

- The Press

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